Sport: It’s not ‘just a game’. It’s so much more

Diaby does something stupid and gets sent off. And here's where te emotional shift started.

Never before have I been so angry. And, no, I’m not exaggerating.

When Arsenal’s Abu Diaby pushed Joey Barton’s head into the ground and rightly got himself sent off against Newcastle, I felt my emotions change. One. Two. Three. Four. That’s how many goals Arsenal led by. I was so happy. At the end of 90 minutes, it was 4-4. The Toons had pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in football history.

I was shattered, broken and dismayed. Never before have I been so angry.

Diaby had – I said on Twitter, Facebook and in angry SMSs to my friends – thrown away the English league, virtually gifting it to Manchester United. That hurt. Badly. His rush of blood had cost his team dearly. Not just in this game, but also now because he’ll be out suspended for three matches. His childish act had hurt his team.

I was shattered, broken and dismayed.

But two hours later, some of that hurt had healed. ManU had – somehow, somehow, somehow – been beaten by Wolves, 2-1. Arsenal’s point against Newcastle meant the gap at the top was now down to four points. Arsenal were back in it.

Fans' emotions are invested. That's what makes sport so important.

I am no longer as shattered, as broken or as dismayed as I was. It’s funny how 90 minutes can turn your whole evening around.

It’s often said: “Don’t worry, it’s just a game.” No, it’s not. Sport is not just a game.

Fans’ emotions are embedded in their teams. That’s not a game. They pour their hearts, souls and, yes, even their money into their teams. That’s not a game. We hurt when the team loses, dance when they win, cry tears of joy or sadness. That’s not a game. We connect with billions of like-minded people – teammates, in a sense – from across the world and shout until we’re hoarse to spur our side to victor. That is not a game.

No, sport is not “just a game”.

When the Proteas start their bid to win the World Cup they will be carrying with them the hopes of a nation. That’s why we get so angry when players make stupid, amateur mistakes. It’s not the mistake that we care about, it’s the heartbreak we feel when those mistakes are made.

The Springboks will try retain their World Cup title in New Zealand later this year, in very trying times and difficult circumstances. And they will have a nation behind them, a people driving them on to victory. Black, white, coloured, it won’t matter – they will all be in their replica jersey shouting across the ocean in the feint hope that it will push the team to the trophy.

We love watching Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Tim Clark and others winning golf tournaments because it makes us proud of our country. We get pissed off when Teko Modise messes up on the soccer field and lets his fame get to his head, not because of these things, but because we want our players to play well and win.

Why were South Africans so happy that the World Cup was so successful? Beacuse sport showed what our country can do. The importance of sport can not be understated. It is not just a game.

When you are emotionally invested in anything, it’s no longer a game. You can’t be a real sports fan without being emotionally invested. Your heart and soul must be in it. That’s why a loss hurts. Why a win is your drug. Why anger floods when people insult the team you support.

No. Sport is not “just a game” – it’s where millions of people invest themselves. And it’s simply awesome.

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